Bring Back The Four Musketeers

A digitally enhanced image of Roberto Soriano, Renan, Gianluca Sansone and Angelo Palombo on the balcony of Juliet.


Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic must start “The Four Musketeers” in all games until the end of the season.

Consisting of Roberto Soriano, Renan Garcia, Gianluca Sansone and Angelo Palombo, the Doria quartet scored Sampdoria’s goals in the 5-0 win against Hellas Verona in Round 29 this season.

Mihajlovic wanted his team to “throw Juliet off the balcony”, and thanks to Soriano, Renan, Sansone and Palombo, it happened.

Throughout the history of football, there have been teams who have contained a group of players in their team and they are referred to by their nicknames, particularly in the Italian game.

AC Milan had the inside-forward line “Gre-No-Li”, as a reference to Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm back in the early 1950s. Then Napoli was remembered for “MaGiCa” in reference to Diego Maradona, Bruno Giordano and Careca in the 1987-88 Serie A season.

Sampdoria has had nicknames for groups of players in its history too. If Torino had “I Gemelli del Gol” in the 1970s with Francesco Graziani and Paolo Pulici, the Doriani had two partnerships by that nickname. Mark I with Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini existed from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s and Mark II, which included Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini, made their impact in the late 200os.

“The Four Musketeers” could join them but Mihajlovic needs to play them more regularly. Doria’s win against Verona was surely the best win of the season so far and aside from the goalscoring, those four players made great contributions to the team’s overall play.

After the Verona victory, the Blucerchiati beat Sassuolo 2-1, drew 0-0 with Fiorentina and lost 2-0 to Lazio. “The Four Musketeers” have not started in a match since but Mihajlovic should consider starting them against Inter. Why persist with the out of form Nenad Krsticic and Eder?

Sampdoria’s win against Verona showed us how a Doria team should play. Play to attack, play to win and win in style. Doria-style! With “The Four Musketeers” in the team, Sampdoria can beat Inter.

Here’s another photo:

Why Should Sansone Always Start Ahead of Eder?

Sampdoria’s Gianluca Sansone celebrates after scoring in the Doriani’s 5-0 win against Hellas Verona.

Gianluca Sansone must play ahead of Eder at Sampdoria.

We need to see more Italian players play in the Serie A and foreigners of an average skill level should not be selected over someone born on the Italian peninsula.

Calcio used to be filled with foreign stars of outstanding quality but now in the new millennium, even “The Big Three” are struggling to lure the best talent in the world. Financially the Serie A cannot compete with the EPL, La Liga or even the German Bundesliga. Even Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco in France’s Ligue 1 have the money to buy the world’s elite footballers.

Despite the presence of talented local and foreign players in Serie A, there are some foreign players who are either mediocre in skill level or they are good but nowhere near world-class.

There is a mix of local players and foreigners on Sampdoria’s relatively young roster. One case that stands out is the usage of Brazilian forward Eder Citadin Martins, or Eder for short. For those who haven’t seen him play, he is no match for the sublime genius Eder Aleixo de Assis, also better known as Eder, Brazil’s left-winger at the 1982 World Cup. He’s not even a Cerezo.

Sampdoria’s Eder is best described as a workhorse. Don’t let the stats fool you too. He is Samp’s leading goalscorer this season with nine goals and he has seven assists but they don’t tell the full story.

Eder misplaces passes, hits free-kicks straight at walls, his judgement is poor and if he doesn’t work hard, he is almost invisible. In his defence, he is a good header of the ball, he is a reliable penalty taker (three of his nine goals have come from the penalty spot) and he has cut down enormously on his diving.

Argentine Maxi Lopez and Italo-Nigerian Stefano Okaka are better than Eder in the lone striker role and hopefully all of Serie A will see that Sansone is a better left-winger than Eder.

Sansone would have a few good games under Delio Rossi and after a mediocre one, he would be benched. Earlier this season, Sansone was excellent in the 2-2 draw against Torino but he lost his place to Eder in the next game against Livorno.

Eder was horrible in Sampdoria’s 3-0 loss to Atalanta and Sansone has started the last two Serie A matches in his place. Doria won both matches, 5-0 against Hellas Verona and 2-1 against Sassuolo. Sansone opened the scoring in both matches and looked lively throughout.

He has excellent dribbling skills, great passing and he does not squander goalscoring chances like Eder. He also links-up with his teammates better than the Brazilian.

Sansone will be 27 years old in May and after some good seasons in Serie B, he could finally be making an impact in Serie A. Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic must not make the same mistake as Rossi in this aspect.

Sansone will probably be another late bloomer but if his latest performances are anything to go by, he must start in place of Eder. It will an example of why Serie A coaches should play local talent over average foreigners.

Benitez is Right to Suggest a Mentality Change in Italian Football

Napoli’s Spanish coach Rafael ‘Rafa’ Benitez.

Rafa Benitez has made some valid points about the mentality in Italian football.

His comments were a bit exaggerated too but he made his point clear enough. Although calcio isn’t as defensive as it was two decades ago, Italian teams still have the tendency to be conservative, pragmatic and even lazy.

More than any other football nation, Italy is too result driven. That has been the case in the post-World War II era, especially with the emergence of catenaccio, the perishing of Il Grande Torino and  the Azzurri‘s failures at international level in the 1950s.

Benitez spoke to the Italian press before the Partenopei’s Europa League clash with FC Porto. Like him or loathe him, the point is not that he made those comments on the mentality of calcio. The point is that someone made those comments in the first place.

He told “European football is attacking football and that is what the television audiences and the fans like.

“Italian football however concerns itself a lot with not conceding goals.

“A change in mentality is necessary. How a team defends can be decisive, but not always.

“In Italy everyone talks about playing with three at the back, but really there are 11 men behind the ball!”

Perhaps the last quote is hyperbole but Benitez is accurate in the other quotes.

Italian teams are so obsessed with results and the fear of failure is too great. It seems that it is very hard to change a mentality that has been present in Italian football for over 60 years but Italy and the world has changed since then.

Catenaccio was invented in the 1940s by Nereo Rocco when he was coaching Triestina. It was also just after World War II, in which the Italian army suffered humiliating defeats, particularly in North Africa and in Greece. Perhaps the weakness and ineptness of the Italian army made Italian football coaches think that they must be the opposite of Italian generals. If Italian army generals lost because they were tactically inept, Italy’s football coaches could not afford to do the same. Organisation is a massive priority for Italian coaches.

Many things have changed since the war has ended and Rocco introduced catenaccio to calcio. It isn’t likely that we will see a World War III anytime soon and Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan is credited by most pundits and fans as the team to have revolutionised Italian football and destroyed catenaccio. Judging by how Italian teams play now, it doesn’t look like the revolution was a complete success.

Benitez was spot on when he said that Europeans like to play attacking football. Only Greece can be considered to be more pragmatic than the Italians and Fernando Santos’ team is probably the most defensive in world football. These days, even Germany plays attacking football and implement a pressing game. A nation that is known for doing things efficiently, the German teams at club and international level are know playing with more flair and creativity.

The rest of Europe can differentiate the difference between football and war. Former Dutch coach Rinus Michels once said that football is war but if Italian coaches had heard that quote, they would have taken it too literally. In battle, soldiers must stick to a plan. They can’t show off like James Bond in a 007 movie. Football is different. Playing can show tricks and amazing pieces of skill as long as they are constructive. Party tricks and mazy dribbles count for nothing if they don’t result in goals.

Calcio has been too obsessed with systems, the defensive aspects of the game and the fear of losing. As a result, Italian teams struggle to maintain possession despite the presence of technically gifted players. Just because a team attacks, it doesn’t mean you can throw your defensive structure out of the window.  A team can still attack and make sure that the right defensive structures are in place. Italian teams need to embrace this concept.

If you look at teams like Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, they are known for their style of play and they don’t over-elaborate on the defensive aspects like an Italian coach would. Barcelona emphasises on keeping possession but when the Blaugrana lose the ball, they press as quickly as possible. Dortmund plays a counter-attacking game but when it doesn’t have the ball, they press and confine the space.

The idea of Italian teams throwing 11 men behind the ball these days is an exaggeration but for all the formations used, the application is the main problem. There are teams that either fatigue easily or they are too preoccupied with conceding goals. Not enough attention is paid to creating chances and finishing them and not many teams take risks or have a daring approach.

This is why it is good to have a coach like Zdenek Zeman in Italian football. He develops young players and he has a cavalier approach. Il Boemo does ignore defensive structures and the closest he has been to winning major silverware was in the 1994/95 Serie A season when Lazio came equal second but he is a maverick.

Calcio needs coaches like him and in Eusebio Di Francesco, there is a coach who has embraced Zeman’s philosophy. The Sassuolo coach played under Zeman at Roma and having been re-instated as Neroverdi coach, Di Francesco could lead them to Serie A survival while granting opportunities to youngsters like Nicola Sansone, Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi.

If there is one man who would also agree with Rafa, it would be Sampdoria coach Sinisa Mihajlovic. After losing 3-0 to Atalanta in the last round of Serie A, Mihajlovic said that his team only played for 15-20 minutes and his players should be men first and players second. Samp’s coach also addressed another issue with Italian football. Even when teams attack, most of them just do it in patches.

This is another reason why Italian football needs a mentality change. If an Italian team attacks, they don’t attack for 90 minutes, and even if they get a big lead, they sit on it just to show mercy on their opponents. Italian teams must attack for 90 minutes and thrash teams when they have the chance. Forget about saving energy. Why save energy if there is nothing to save in the first place?

Italian teams should never show sympathy. If Manchester United 7-1 Roma from the 2006-07 UEFA Champions League season and the Euro 2012 Final are anything to go by, neutrals will want to see Italian teams humiliated, just so the coaches get punished for complacency or pragmatism.

Not only that, the foreign media love to portray Italian football as cowardly, especially the English press. This is why Mihajlovic’s comments are important. Italian footballers need to show that they aren’t cowards, regardless if they are playing for club or country. Non-Italian teams and fans want to win but they want style and goals. Why would someone want to go to the stadium on a cold night just to watch two teams watch the clock keep ticking?

Even if you want to talk about trophy cabinets, should Italy be happy with just four World Cups and its clubs content with 12 European Cup/ UEFA Champions League trophies? If Italian teams played for 90 minutes, attacked their opponents and were more ambitious, there could be more trophies coming in.

The sad thing about all this is that Italian teams can play attacking football. In the first two years of Cesare Prandelli’s stint, the Azzurri played some of their best football in years. The Azzurrini reached the final of the European U/21 Championship and lost 4-2 to Spain but there were some fine attacking players present. In the Serie A, there are teams like Roma, Juventus, Fiorentina, Napoli (at times), Hellas Verona and Sassuolo that want to play entertaining football.

Italy doesn’t have stars like Roberto Baggio, Gianni Rivera, Sandro Mazzola, Giuseppe Meazza and the like these days but players like Giuseppe Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Lorenzo Insigne, Antonio Cassano and Marco Verratti are a few players who play with spark and class. Despite having the reputation for being the “masters of defence”, Italy has still produced excellent attacking players and more are coming through.

If calcio has embraced the “football is war” philosophy, that should change too. Italian coaches should familiarise themselves with the saying, “Offence is the best form of defence.” If Italians are the “masters of defence” and “offence is the best form of defence”, shouldn’t Italians be the “masters of offence” too?

With the attacking talent Italy produces, neutrals shouldn’t be so obsessed with Spain and tiki-taka, Brazil and jogo bonito or the Netherlands and Totaalvoetbal. The nation known for catenaccio and teaching the world to defend must show that it is capable of playing bel gioco.

Benitez is a coach that is highly rated in the football world but disliked by others. Regardless of what you think of him, he made some points about how Italian teams approach matches.

Seedorf Should Change Tactics or Personnel

AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf (right) with Kaka (left) and Mario Balotelli (centre).

AC Milan coach Clarence Seedorf needs to use the right players to fit his tactics or work with what he has got and play to their strengths.

The Rossoneri have lost their last four competitive matches and they have been criticised by the Italian press and the fans alike. Reports in La Corriere dello Sport are claiming that Silvio Berlusconi might sack the 37-year-old if results don’t change for the better anytime soon and La Gazzetta dello Sport has claimed that he has two games to obtain good results.

Seedorf has been persisting in the 4-2-3-1 formation and it has not been working. Using playmakers such as Kaka and Keisuke Honda as wingers has failed, players like Kevin Constant, Urby Emanuelson and Robinho are still uninspiring and young players like Riccardo Saponara, Bryan Cristante and Andrea Petagna don’t get a look in.

If Seedorf wants to stick with his preferred formation, he should try something like this, assuming everyone is fit:

My ideal Milan team in the 4-2-3-1.

In this formation, Seedorf would have two excellent attacking full-backs and two wide players in midfield who would actually feel comfortable playing on the wings. Nigel  De Jong would play in ‘the Makelele role’, Montolivo would be the regista and no room is made for two trequartisti.

I have not included a goalkeeper because neither Christian Abbiati and Marco Amelia have been disappointing. Abbiati looks like a man who should hang up the gloves and Amelia looks out of depth. Perhaps Brazilian youngster Gabriel should play more games just for the sake of gaining experience.

Mattia De Sciglio and Ignazio Abate are regularly called-up for the Italian national team by Cesare Prandelli and they are arguably the two best full-backs in the Serie A, particularly for full-backs playing in a back four. Adil Rami has been under scrutiny recently like most Milan players but he has chipped-in with a few goals. He could do better defensively with a better partner or playing in a better-structured defence. Cristian Zapata is good on the ball but it is clear that he still needs to recapture the form that he had at Udinese.

Kaka operates in the trequartista role and that suits his characteristics the best. El Shaarawy would be in the penalty box less often but he could still cut-in and curl a shot with his right foot. Andrea Poli could play in the left midfield role, having played there a few times at Sampdoria, and he could play there in place of El Shaarawy. Adel Taarabt is placed on the right-wing but it is more or less to accommodate Il Piccolo Faraone.  Another option on the right-wing would be Saponara, who has played in that position at different levels.

I’ve selected Giampaolo Pazzini instead of Balotelli because ‘Balo’ has been a disappointment. He has shown that he is more of a scorer of great goals than a great goalscorer and if he isn’t scoring stunning goals, he doesn’t do any pressing and he just walks around the ground, looking uninterested. ‘Pazzo’ is not the most complete forward in the world, he is a pure finisher. He needs quality crosses or sufficient through-balls played to him. He isn’t mobile like Marco Van Basten or Andriy Shevchenko.

Another thing to take into account is that El Shaarawy’s goals dried up when Balotelli arrived and Pazzini had started to score regularly. ‘Balo’ is enigmatic and erratic and El Shaarawy and Pazzini are safer options in attack. If they aren’t sufficient options, Seedorf can take a punt on Petagna.

My ideal Milan formation in the 4-3-2-1.

In the Christmas Tree formation, Honda and Kaka are trequartisti and not only would they have more freedom to roam around, they would be in a closer vicinity to Pazzini, who seems to play better when he gets the ball to his feet than on his head. Poli would get a start in midfield and if the team was compact, it would allow for more fluidity in midfield. If not Poli, Cristante could play instead in midfield, and the youngster was impressive when he played against Atalanta and Sassuolo. The drawback is the midfield is too narrow.

Using this formation would allow Honda and Kaka to play well in this team and without El Shaarawy in the team, there isn’t much point in using wide players. Taarabt is inconsistent, Robinho is still underachieving and Kaka and Honda are very ineffective as wingers.

AC Milan face Lazio and Fiorentina in the next two Serie A matches and Berlusconi is starting to regret his appointment of Seedorf. Either assistant coach Mauro Tassotti will get more games as senior coach or Filippo Inzaghi will be promoted from the primavera.

If Seedorf wants to keep his job, he might have to consider setting-up the team like this.

Why Should Parma Aim for Third Place?

Sassuolo’s Davide Biondini is chased by Parma’s Walter Gargano. The Ducali defeated the Neroverdi 1-0 in the last round.

It may seem like a bold statement to make but Parma should aim for third place in this season’s Serie A.

The Crociati have gone unbeaten in their last 14 Serie A matches and if current form permits, they can make the most of the slip-ups made by the teams around them. For instance, Napoli and Fiorentina are struggling to gain points in the battle for the final UEFA Champions League spot.

The Napolitani have won two, drawn two and lost one of their last five matches and that includes a 3-0 loss to Atalanta and a 1-1 to Livorno, opponents that Napoli should be beating. The Viola have won one, drawn one and lost three of their last five matches and it’s apparent that Giuseppe Rossi’s injury and Borja Valero’s suspension has affected Vincenzo Montella’s side.

Inter Milan has looked out of sorts. Walter Mazzarri has replaced Andrea Stramaccioni on the Nerazzurri bench but the former Napoli coach is still insisting on using veterans. Inter also went winless in January, drawing two matches and losing just as many. Mazzarri also persists with Rodrigo Palacio as a lone striker when he would be better off with a partner like Mauro Icardi in attack.

Hellas Verona, as based on last week’s evidence, look weaker without Luca Toni in attack. If Andrea Mandorlini’s side is to stay in the hunt for European action, it needs the veteran forward to keep firing in the goals.

AC Milan is getting results under Clarence Seedorf but it is still unconvincing. Although Mario Balotelli was missing, the Rossoneri showed that they lack the firepower to beat the big teams, as witnessed in the 2-0 loss to Juventus.

These squads are lacking the consistency that Parma and although the current vintage is not as good as the Ducali squads of the 1990s, coach Roberto Donadoni has a good squad at his disposal.

Antonio Mirante is a part of Italy’s 31-man pre-World Cup training squad in Rome that will go on from March 10 until the 12th. The Parma goalkeeper is one of the so-called fringe players in the camp, while most of the others are Italian youth internationals.

Centre-back Gabriel Paletta made his debut in Italy’s recent 1-0 loss to Spain and he was undoubtedly the best performer in an otherwise disappointing Azzurri performance. Based on that showing, the Parma defender should be in Cesare Prandelli’s World Cup squad.

Marco Parolo was called-up for the friendly but he didn’t play. He did play in the 2-2 draw against Nigeria last year, in which he squandered chances to win the game for Italy. At club level, he is second on Parma’s leading goalscorer list with seven goals, two goals behind Antonio Cassano. Not a bad feat for a midfielder.

Cassano himself hasn’t played for Italy since Euro 2012 but when he has played under Prandelli, he has played some of his best football in an Italian jumper. For Parma, Cassano has scored nine goals and provided five assists.

Jonathan Biabiany offers great pace on the right-wing and he has been a transfer target for Juventus for some time. The Frenchman has been used as a wing-back in the 3-5-2 formation but he is best suited as wide forward in the 4-3-3.

There are other internationals in the Parma squad too. Former Italian internationals Mattia Cassani and Cristian Molinaro occupy the full-back roles and Uruguayan international Walter Gargano has been gaining regular action in central midfield in recent months.

Qualification for Europe would be great redemption for Donadoni. He jumped into the Italy job too soon, flopped at Napoli and as coach of Cagliari, he was sacked before the 2011-12 season had started. Donadoni has been at the club for over two seasons and his teams can adapt to both the 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 formations.

Parma president Tommaso Ghirardi was interviewed recently on ParmaLive about the prospect of playing in Europe next season. He said: “I’m a very practical and realistic.

“A goal is never made because we have to be very honest and keep our feet on the ground but now we’re playing for Europe so it is right that we have the dream of wanting to try.”

With the squad Parma has and the inconsistency of its rivals, the Europa League would be an excellent achievement but Donadoni could and should aim higher.

Match Comment: Spain 1-0 Italy

Spain’s Pedro scores in La Furia Roja’s 1-0 win against Italy yesterday in Madrid’s Estadio Vicente Calderon.

Italy shows little interest in friendlies and against Spain last night, it was no different. Despite the lack of importance of the match, it makes me wonder about how this Italy team will do at Brazil 2014 and afterwards.

The 1-0 scoreline flatters the Azzurri. La Furia Roja smashed the Azzurri in possession and if it wasn’t for some Gianluigi Buffon saves and an impressive debut by Gabriel Paletta in defence, Spain could have won by more.

It would be easy to label the Italian display as defensive but after watching the match, it looked like something worse. Admittedly, it was an experimental Italian side but nearly all of the players looked lost.

The team lacked an identity or a method of playing and most of the players looked like statues. Off the ball there was hardly any pressing going on and on the ball the Azzurri struggled to put passes together. Vicente Del Bosque didn’t have his best team on the park put he still had some key players and anyone new to the team can be integrated into it.

Spain is known for its short-passing possession game but a good number of crosses were sent into the box. A thing to consider is what if Fernando Llorente was picked ahead of Diego Costa? Would he have been better in the air than the Atletico Madrid striker?

Prandelli didn’t want this friendly to go on and perhaps it showed. Aside from Paletta and Alessio Cerci, his players didn’t look like they wanted to be there either. They didn’t have to go out there and be fancy but the Italian players didn’t show any effort or intensity.

Paletta was a rock in defence and gave Diego Costa little space. Cerci’s ball usage wasn’t always effective but he was the only Italian player that looked like creating something. More often than not, he was isolated in attack.

Things might have been different if Torino teammate Ciro Immobile played alongside him in attack instead of Pablo Osvaldo, who Prandelli somehow has a great fondness for. At least Cerci and Immobile play together at club level so they would have some understanding as to how each other plays.

The World Cup starts in about three months time and one must wonder if Prandelli has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play. Back in 2012, he did. During the Euro 2012 qualifiers and the tournament itself, Italy played a possession-based game and frequently used the 4-3-1-2 formation.

Since the 4-0 loss to the Spaniards in the Euro 2012, it seems that the identity of Prandelli’s Italy is lost. Is he moving away from the 4-3-1-2? Does he want to see if he has adequate back-up plans? It would be better if he made sure that Plan A is working first.

When he did use the 4-3-1-2 in a friendly against Nigeria late last year, the team showed it could still work.  Eventually Prandelli changed the formation as he put on more attacking weapons in the 2-2 draw but the Azzurri showed that it can entertain and attack.

There might be people thinking that Italy only performs when it matters most but is it the right mentality to have? That mindset has worked at some tournaments but there are times when Italy don’t get into gear at all.

As for friendlies, every opportunity to play for your country should be an honour and you should put in some effort. Prandelli blamed fatigue for yesterday’s loss but aside from the lack of a system or game plan, the Italians looked psychologically weaker than the Spanish.

Hopefully the old cliche of Italians clicking when it matters will occur once again in Brazil but at the moment, Prandelli and his squad appear to be lost.

Di Francesco’s Back, Tell a Friend

Eusebio Di Francesco has returned to the Sassuolo bench after Alberto Malesani received his marching orders.

Sassuolo sacking Alberto Malesani and Eusebio Di Francesco returning as the coach of the Emilia-Romagna club is excellent news.

Truth be told, Malesani probably should not have got the job in the first place. His star has gone down since coaching Parma in the late 1990s and he played a part in getting teams like Verona, Siena and Palermo relegated in the last decade or so.

The only Sassuolo performance under Malesani that was worthy of being labelled a gallant defeat was the 3-2 loss away to Lazio. Aside from Simone Zaza, who struggled to win aerial battles and control passes, most of the Neroverdi players played well. Other than that, Sassuolo has been uninspiring.

Chances of the Neroverdi surviving in Serie A are slim but with Di Francesco back on board, they might be in with a fighting chance.

The former Pescara and Lecce coach didn’t have a proper chance to work with Sassuolo’s new January signings once he was sacked after the Neroverdi‘s 3-1 loss to relegation-rivals Livorno.

Now that he has returned, Di Francesco can find the ideal mix of youth and experience in this team. A pupil of Zdenek Zeman, undoubtedly the most attack-minded coach to have coached in Serie A, Di Francesco has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play.

He isn’t as attached to the 4-3-3 formation as his former coach at Roma but he is far more progressive than the man who took his place at Sassuolo throughout February.

For the next three matches, Di Francesco will be without emerging star Domenico Berardi, who elbowed Cristian Molinaro in Sassuolo’s 1-0 loss to Parma. Whenever the Neroverdi won under Di Francesco, Berardi usually played a vital role.

Either Simone Missiroli or Antonio Floro Flores will need to create some spark for Sassuolo and it will probably come from the latter. Missiroli is a fine Serie B player but has looked out of his depth in Serie A. At least Floro Flores is capable of scoring from the odd free-kick.

Bologna is Sassuolo’s first opponent on Di Francesco’s return and it is also stuck in the relegation battle with 12 rounds left. The Neroverdi is four points away from safety and five points behind next week’s opponents but they should fancy themselves against the team that sold Alessandro Diamanti.

Sassuolo had its Malesani phase but it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. There’s still some hope, Di Francesco is back.

A Giovinco-Osvaldo Partnership Benefits Both Players

Pablo Osvaldo in Juventus’ latest 2-0 win against Trabzonspor in the Europa League.

Sebastian Giovinco and Pablo Osvaldo started in Juventus’ victory against Trabzonspor on Thursday night and their performances can benefit both players.

Both players were involved in both of the Bianconeri’s goals in the 2-0 win away to the Turkish Super Lig side in the Europa League and it seems that  Juve coach Antonio Conte has a clear idea on how to rotate his attack.

Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente form the regular strike partnership in Serie A but both of them were rested against the Turkish squad. In came Giovinco and Osvaldo, two strikers who still have a lot to prove.

For the first goal, Giovinco found Osvaldo on the left  and the centre-forward centered the ball of Giovinco to get onto the returning pass. Trabzonspor goalkeeper Onur Kivrak saved Giovinco’s shot but Arturo Vidal tapped-in the rebound.

Osvaldo got himself on the goalscorer’s list by scoring the second goal. Claudio Marchisio’s long pass found Giovinco on the left, who sprung the offside trap, and crossed for the Italo-Argentine, who ran in and headed the ball into the net.

For Giovinco, it was no surprise that Osvaldo and he did well against Trabzonspor. Both forwards had played together with the Azzurrini and they played like they had been together for years.

“Osvaldo and I have known since each other since the days of the [Italy] under-21s and I’m glad [with] how we fared together,” Giovinco told Mediaset.

Doing well against the Turks could be the start of better things for the duo. Giovinco has always been considered to be a promising player but he has not lived up to expectations. Warming the bench doesn’t help him either. Then there is Osvaldo, who is known to be inconsistent and temperamental.

Cesare Prandelli has called-up both players for Italy in the past and Osvaldo is a particular favourite of the Azzurri coach, despite claims that he was ruled out of Italy’s World Cup team. If both players lead Juventus to Europa League success, it would benefit their chances of getting back into the Italy squad.

Conte has had trouble sorting out his preferred attack since becoming the Juventus coach but on the basis of the latest Europa League win, it seems that the missing pieces of the puzzle have been fit into place.

Watch the goals here:

Sampdoria Must Change Mentality

Sampdoria’s Shkodran Mustafi and AC Milan’s Giampaolo Pazzini in the Blucerchiati’s latest 2-0 loss.

Sampdoria has suffered two losses against big teams recently and the mentality of the players must change.

Sinisa Mihajlovic’s team has lost 3-0 away to Roma and 2-0 at home to AC Milan in the last fortnight and the Blucerchiati looked second-rate in both matches.

Roma doesn’t have the trophy of an AC Milan but the Giallorossi are a popular team nonetheless and this season they are Juventus’ closest rivals in the title race. AC Milan is not like the Rossoneri sides of old but for history alone, they are still a team to respect.

Samp has looked like a David among these Goliaths in recent weeks. On the weekend, AC Milan dominated possession 54 per cent to 46 and before that, Roma had the ball 64 per cent of the time compared to Samp’s 36.

Surprisingly Sampdoria had put up more of a fight in the 4-2 loss to Juventus. Passes were hit more accurately and the Blucerchiati players had quicker movement off the ball. Mihajlovic’s players probably knew that Juve was going to beat them but if they played ultra-defensively or moved the ball at a slow tempo, Antonio Conte’s side probably would have steamrolled all over them.

The Blucerchiati players and fans feel hard done by because of the decisions made by referee Daniele Doveri but Samp made it worse by not putting Milan under serious pressure, even with the two-goal deficit. Even under Delio Rossi, the Samp players tried to fight when they went down by two goals.

Perhaps Sampdoria’s latest losses displayed some of the things wrong with calcio in general. Although Serie A is more attacking than what it is over 25 years ago, conservatism and pragmatism can still kick in very easily.

Fear of losing and losing heavily still plays on the minds of Italian players and coaches. For all the technically gifted players Italy produces, caution still creeps in far too often. Sampdoria, like most other teams, should try and throw caution to the wind. Even if you lose, at least you tried.

It can also be argued the flaws in Mihajlovic’s system are slowly becoming apparent. Manolo Gabbiadini needs more time in the box to do what comes naturally to him. Starting on the right-wing has its pros but the cons are becoming more evident. He isn’t quick enough and doesn’t possess the trickery to play as a winger.

If Gabbiadini is going to stay on the right-wing, he should have Nenad Krsticic alongside him as a trequartista. They combine well when they are nearby whereas under Rossi and Mihajlovic, Gabbiadini can hardly combine with Eder.

It doesn’t help when Eder makes meaningless dummies or passes the ball while assuming that a teammate is going to read his pass. He’d make a pass and there waiting would be a sea of opposition defenders. Eder must be more aware of the position of his teammates and not guess that a teammate is going to latch onto his passes unless he wants to pass to an invisible man.

If the winning goal in the recent Derby della Lanterna is anything to go by, Maxi Lopez and Eder form a good combination. When the Argentine returns from suspension, Eder could play on the left-wing and Lopez would be the lone striker in the 4-2-3-1. Aside from the two South Americans combining on one part of the pitch, Eder could also get out of Gabbiadini’s way.

Lorenzo De Silvestri must start making more crosses. If Eder is on the left-wing, De Silvestri could over-hit the crosses and the Brazilian could make a late run into the penalty box. Vasco Regini needs to offer more of an offensive input. He was a centre-back at Empoli but played as a left-back at Foggia under Zdenek Zeman.

Pedro Obiang has not been impressive under Mihajlovic and perhaps it is time for Renan to be a starter. He offers more offensively than the Spaniard and he can score the odd goal. If not, surely the young Pole Bartosz Salamon should get his debut. He is known for his pace and versatility and with the youngsters getting time at Sampdoria, his time must come eventually.

All these tactics, player selections and combinations count for little if the coach cannot mould them into a team and the players don’t have self-belief or fighting spirit.

Sampdoria will face the likes of Torino, Livorno and Atalanta in the next few weeks. After watching the disheartening performances against Roma and AC Milan, it would be good if Samp just attacked from the first whistle. They should be more effective with their passes but I’m sure most Doriani want to see a team that plays at a higher tempo and with more intensity. Skills and tactics are important but the approach means something too.

Sampdoria must go out there and win their next Serie A encounters. If the players can’t do it with style, they should at least show more heart and determination than in other weeks. The focus should be on themselves, not the opposition.

If the players going to a match without the belief that they can get a result, they might as well not turn up and just hand their opponents the points.

Sassuolo’s Future in Malesani’s Hands

Sassuolo coach Alberto Malesani.

Alberto Malesani has replaced Eusebio Di Francesco as coach of Serie A newcomers Sassuolo and it was an appointment I am not impressed with.

The Neroverdi did well to add new players to their roster when the January transfer window was open but Di Francesco was sacked after the Emilia-Romagna club lost 3-1 to Livorno.

In comes Malesani, whose record in coaching has been poor in the last decade, and he can be a volatile character too as witnessed in a press conference as coach of Greek giants Panathinaikos in 2006.

Sassuolo share 18th place on the Serie A table with Livorno and now it has put its faith in a coach  that has coached five teams in the last 12 years that have gone on to be relegated from Italy’s top division.

It makes you wonder why the Neroverdi would place their trust in a coach with a poor track record. Long gone are the days of him coaching the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro and Hernan Crespo at Parma.

After assessing the current roster, Sassuolo does not have proven stars but the right blend of experienced campaigners and emerging stars is there.

In defence, players like Paolo Cannavaro and Thomas Manfredini bring experience, Aleandro Rosi had been learning the ropes at Roma and Parma and Lorenzo Ariaudo was another potential star. Ariaudo’s career hasn’t become a star but playing for the Neroverdi will provide him a great chance to play week-in, week-out.

More experience has been brought into the Sassuolo midfield, with the likes of Davide Biondini and Matteo Brighi arriving at the club, and in attack the Neroverdi have added more youth plus an experienced head.

Paraguayan youngster Antonio Sanabria has arrived from Barcelona’s B team, Nicola Sansone has arrived in a co-ownership deal from Parma and centre-forward Sergio Floccari has been bought from Lazio.

Sassuolo was busy on the calciomercato but Malesani has not been able to mould the players into a complete side and if the latest displays are anything to go by, he has been too conservative in the 2-1 defeat to Hellas Verona and 1-0 loss to Inter.

Perhaps if he was less conservative or his organisation was better, Malesani could practically have two squads capable of Serie A survival.

A possible Sassuolo line-up in the 3-4-3 formation.

In the above diagram, the main focus I’ve put here is on the best players bar Luca Marrone. If Marrone was to be used in this formation, I’d take out Biondini. This formation does contain some experienced players but the main focus here is on the young attackers Domenico Berardi, Simone Zaza and Sansone. This formation would make the most of their ability, give them a great chance to develop their skills and help them gain more Serie A experience.

Sassuolo in a potential 3-4-1-2 formation.

The second formation focuses a bit more on experience and Marrone would be one player in this squad who I’d start. He is in a central defender’s role here because he played in that role for Juventus a few times and did well. Malesani might not pick-up on that but it’s an option worth considering. This line-up probably isn’t an idea Plan A but it isn’t a bad Plan B for Sassuolo.

He might not realise it now but Malesani has the material to guide Sassuolo to survival and its future is in his hands. If things don’t improve, the Neroverdi can always bring Di Francesco back.